published Monday, July 9th, 2012

Keeping it cool: Lightweight fabrics key to summer comfort in the workplace

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    Lesley Dale Greenfield stays cool at work wearing a light silk Yoana Baraschi blouse and skirt and platform wedge sandals from Frankie & Julian's.
    Photo by Jake Daniels.
    enlarge photo

Summer's sky-high temperatures are causing many local professionals, men and women, to rethink what to wear to the office.

Lightweight fabrics are the best option for staying cool, said Arlene Goldstein, vice president of trend merchandising and fashion direction for Belk department stores.

"Embrace lightweight, breathable fabrics like cotton and linen," she said. "One hundred percent natural textiles are always cooler, as are linen- or cotton-rich options -- 90 percent cotton/10 percent poly-blends, for example.

"Avoid anything body-hugging," she added. "Looser-fitting dresses and skirts always make me feel cooler than pants, but the new wide-leg pant silhouettes are very warm-weather friendly. They do not cling."

Layering is also a cooling option for professional fashions, she said.

"A tank or a sleeveless blouse might feel great as you leave the house, but once you hit the office, a completer piece is a must," Goldstein said. "An unlined jacket or sheer sweater is professional and climate-friendly as the air conditioner (hopefully) works its magic and cools down your surroundings."

Beware, though, of scooped-neck tanks or dresses.

"Showing too much skin or cleavage is a no-no in the office, regardless of how high the temperatures soar," Goldstein said. "Trust me on this one."

In an article published recently on the New England Cable News website, necn.com, Mary Lou Andre, a nationally recognized business wardrobe consultant and founder and president of Organization by Design, said that no matter the weather, professionals should think "business" first and "casual" second.

"Before hitting the mall to add summer items to your wardrobe, read your office dress code closely to be sure what you select is appropriate for where you work," Andre said. "Many companies frown on any type of sandal being worn to the office, even if they allow more relaxed clothing. Be a conformist in a good way by selecting clothing and accessories that honor your personal style while giving you professional clout with the powers that be."

Andre suggested lightweight career separates with conservative necklines and hemlines coordinated with equally professional footwear, tops and accessories for women. Short-sleeve polo-style shirts and lightweight dress slacks are good for business casual settings for men, she said.

"Work doesn't stop in the summer months," Andre said. "Your professional image shouldn't stop working for you either."

March of Dimes special events director Lesley Dale Greenfield said she's wearing a lot of basic dresses in light fabrics and bold colors -- bright yellow, deep emerald green and soft coral.

"Organic cotton seems to be the most breathable," she said. "Comfort is key, but I still want to look cute.

"To keep it professional, I watch the necklines and hemlines and dress them up with accessories of belts, jewelry and bags."

Former Chattanooga journalist Ken Spear, now an educator in Montgomery, Ala., said he opts for suits made of seersucker, linen and poplin. "And even in my dapperness, I choose to go sockless," Spear said.

Katrina Beets Craven, director of public relations and marketing at Hunter Museum of American Art, said she lives "in short-sleeved or sleeveless dresses during the summer" and opts for breathable, lightweight fabrics.

She keeps a light jacket in the office for when air-conditioning gets too cool, but she's glad she can keep her legs bare.

"I'm so very thankful that I'm not required to wear stockings," she said. "Ugh, hosiery in triple-digit temperatures? No way."

Wearing stockings in a professional setting is a must for some women, while others say they never wear hosiery in hot weather.

Barbara Klaasse Haniszewski, regional director at iZigg Mobile Marketing, is not a fan of stockings.

"I would not even consider a position that requires stockings," she said.

Local educator Linda Cagle prefers to go bare-legged in summer.

"I use lotion on legs so they look smooth and make sure my toenails are polished with a bright color, and to me that looks nice and summery," she said.

However, Katie King, a local attorney, said she prefers to wear stockings.

"Although my position does not require stockings, I usually wear them," King said. "I find they make heels more comfortable and eliminate sweating."

Bare legs are perfectly acceptable in the professional workplace, Goldstein said. However, she recommends using a self-tanner to keep legs "looking their best."

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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